60. Memorandum From Harold Saunders of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1
- The Soviet Counterproposal on the Middle East
The two documents the Soviet Chargé gave Rogers June 17 are at Tab A.2 One is the actual Soviet counterproposal; the other is the oral explanation he made. At Tab B3 is our document for comparison. Sisco is working up a memo4 for the President on where we go now, but here are my first thoughts.
You should know that Sisco has told Rabin we have the Soviet reply but will not be in a position to give it to him until we have our position on it thoroughly worked out. State, if asked by the press, will say we have a reply but refuse to comment on it.
I. Analysis of the Soviet paper shows some movement but not a great deal:
On the positive side:
- Phasing. It reaffirms the idea of a package settlement—all elements of the settlement to be agreed before Israeli withdrawal begins. There is some slight movement in that previously after Israeli withdrawal the agreement went into effect with the signing of a document, although preliminary documents were deposited with the UN before withdrawal. Now, the final, signed document is to be deposited before withdrawal begins, and will be binding and irrevocable immediately.
- Nature of agreement. It talks about “a final and mutually binding understanding”—closer to what Israel wants than the Soviet December 30 plan’s “time schedule for withdrawal” and “agreed plan” for implementing the UN Resolution. It also accepts a document signed by the parties.
- UN forces. The previous Soviet position was never clearly spelled out, but they are now willing to put UN troops in Gaza and Sharm el-Sheikh on a fairly extended basis. Previously the troops seemed destined [Page 185] to stay only during the withdrawal itself. They also include a long proposal for making the UN force less vulnerable to expulsion (although they talk only of a temporary period of “up to 5 years” after which the UN forces could be thrown out on several months’ notice).
- Recognition of Israel. The Arabs would “respect and recognize Israel’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, inviolability and political independence … and right to live in peace in secure and recognized borders without being subjected to threats or use of force.”5 This would, of course, be mutual and doesn’t represent much change in the official Soviet position of the past twenty years, but it may indicate that they think they can get the Arabs to agree to this. The December 30 Soviet document did refer to “appropriate documents concerning” sovereignty and territorial integrity, but the current version is much more explicit.
- Waterways. It affirms Israeli passage through the Straits of Tiran and the Suez Canal, though it does not provide for any concrete means of enforcing this other than the UN force at Sharm el-Sheikh.
- The Soviets have used our language in a few places where it doesn’t hurt them.
On the negative side:
- Direct negotiations. The Soviets have done their best to exclude direct negotiations. They refer to “contacts through Jarring” while we called for “representatives to meet promptly” under him. The Soviets have repeated, almost verbatim, a long section from their December 30 plan which is, in effect, a formula for getting a final agreement without the kind of negotiations the Israelis insist on.
- Peace. The Soviets cut our proposal for acknowledgment by both sides that a formal state of peace exists. This is important to the Israelis. More specifically, they have eliminated the Arab obligation to control the fedayeen. They also dropped our effort to end Arab sanctions against Israel.
- Borders. The Israelis would withdraw to pre-war lines. This is now a “premise” from which the parties would work rather than the immutable fact of December 30. But it still turns aside our effort to create a situation for border changes to be negotiated. It concentrates on working out the timetable for Israeli withdrawal. Because of their position on withdrawal, the Soviets have not made any attempt to address the question of special arrangements for Jerusalem.
- Gaza would apparently revert to UAR control. There would be a UN force and “the situation in this area which existed in May of 1967 shall be restored.”
- Refugees. Israel would carry out the “decisions of the UN” on the refugees. This presumably means unrestricted repatriation. This rejects our efforts to restrict return.
- Demilitarized zones. It provides for small ones (not the whole Sinai) on both sides of the border (which Israel rejects).
- The Syrians and withdrawal from the Golan Heights have been included in the settlement, but the Soviets are still ambiguous on this. In some places they are talking only about the Arabs who agree to a settlement.
II. Reflections on the Soviet position:
- It leaves open the possibility that the Soviets are happy with the present no-peace, no-war situation.
- It leaves unanswered our basic question whether the Soviets and UAR are willing to pay any serious price for Israeli withdrawal.
- It leaves enough room for further talk to keep the discussion going (Sisco says “barely enough”).
- It may reflect the view that our talks help modestly in stabilizing the situation in the Near East so the Soviets want to keep them going for whatever damping effect they have without any real intent to press the Arabs any further.
- However, this is still just the first round, and we cannot assume with certainty that there is no further give in the Soviet position.
III. The impasse that remains is that:
- The Soviets and UAR still refuse to negotiate with Israel on the basis that all occupied territory is negotiable. They are not going to state more forthrightly their willingness to make peace in this document (both have said more elsewhere) until we tell them we are not trying to parlay Israel’s conquests into a permanently expanded map of Israel.
- The Israelis want significant changes in their borders at key places. They believe peace with Nasser is impossible and even if he said he wanted peace, they would doubt him and still want their own control over key spots. They want to be left alone with the Egyptians so that the Egyptians will have to face up to the realities of Israeli power and accept Israeli terms.
- In short, the Arab governments are willing to recognize Israel in its pre-war borders but not yet to sign off on the Palestine issue for the Palestinians. Because the Israelis believe they will still be under attack, they aren’t willing to settle for pre-war borders.
IV. The issues now posed for us are:
- Should we break off the talks with the Russians?
- Yes. [Page 187]
- Their response shows very little give on points crucial to us.
- We don’t want to play into their hands. If they’re just trying to string the talks along to keep the no-peace no-war situation alive but safer, we have no interest in playing that game.
- Breaking off might shake them up.
- Their response isn’t all bad.
- We couldn’t have expected them to go too much further in this first exchange.
- Hard bargaining so far has brought them a long way from their position six months ago. We owe it to ourselves to keep at it.
- Should we go back to the Russians with revisions to their
document to try to improve it somewhat before we consult Israel?
- The argument against is that the Russians probably won’t give much more until we get specific about territories.
- The argument for is that their paper doesn’t give us much to work with in approaching the Israelis. The Israelis will just regard the present response as clear vindication of their argument that the Soviets (and Arabs) don’t want peace. We have to make at least one more try with Moscow before tackling them.
- Shall we go ahead now and state our position on borders?
- It’s essential to further movement. It is plain from Dobrynin’s comments to you and from the USSR reply, that the Soviets are not likely even to consider serious concessions until we are willing to break down and state a concrete position on borders.
- We don’t really agree with Israel’s territorial ambitions (as we understand them), so why should we bear the stigma of holding out for them.
- We do want to move this situation closer to a settlement. We can hold out for awhile longer—hard to say exactly how long—but there’s little question that prolongation of the current impasse works against us.
- We have no indication that the UAR is ready to sound convincing enough on its desire for peace to give us what we need to persuade the Israelis to state a firm position on borders. The USSR in New York and Egyptians privately have said they are willing to end twenty years of war but their formal response is not enough for the Israelis (if, indeed, anything would satisfy them).
- There’s no reason why we should give in first. Nasser lost the war and until he is willing to make peace without obvious purpose of evasion, there is no reason why we should pay any price to get his territory back for him.
- If we state a position, should it be Israel’s or ours? [Page 188]
- We could go to the Israelis now and tell them it’s
time for them to be specific about borders.
- The argument against this is that the Israelis are adamant in saying they won’t surface their position until the Arabs sit down to negotiate. We have very little chance of beating them down on this.
- The argument for is that the time has come to make a real try to find out what the UAR will pay to get its land back and Israel either has to go along or bear the onus for blocking a reasonable effort—an onus we will share.
- If they won’t agree, we could go ahead and surface our
own position for bargaining purposes. Roughly this might
be return to the old international border; Gaza under UN
administration for a transition period (with the idea of
its going to Jordan); UN presence at Sharm el-Sheikh,
perhaps with joint patrols; demilitarization, perhaps to
the Mitla pass with a token area on the Israeli side.
- The argument against this is that we will not be speaking for Israel.
- The argument for is that we will at least get away from the stigma of supporting what most people regard as unreasonable Israeli demands. Telling the Israelis we were going ahead might—though the odds are probably against it—smoke out an Israeli position.
- Should we lay aside this document for the moment and try a
different tack? One possibility is to say quite
straightforwardly to the Soviets: We are prepared to press on
Israel the territorial settlement outlined above provided the Soviets can deliver the
Arabs for direct negotiations with a clear-cut statement of
their willingness to make peace and control the fedayeen. We
can’t guarantee a positive Israeli response, but if they will
try in Cairo, we will try in Jerusalem. If they don’t want to
try, we will stick to our present formulation.
- The argument against this is that Russians don’t negotiate this way. This gives away our hand too easily.
- The argument for is that we won’t get anywhere until we get down to the territorial question. This might be a way of doing it without committing ourselves formally to a territorial position.
V. My tentative recommendation is that we:
- Try one more round with the current paper, giving the Russians a counter document revised to put some of our language on peace back in.
- Only then consider stating a position on territories, but if we feel it necessary to discuss boundaries at the end of this next round, do it first via the alternative stated above (IV–E).
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 649, Country Files, Middle East, Middle East Negotiations, June 1969. Secret; Nodis. Sent for information. The memorandum bears the handwritten comment, “HAK has seen, 7/7.”↩
- Attached but not printed; See footnote 2, Document 58.↩
- Tab B is the document cited in footnote 2, Document 53.↩
- See Document 63.↩
- Ellipsis in the source text.↩